What I wish I’d known
Ah, the ingénue I was a mere eight months ago. Armed with my Collins pocket dictionary, nowhere to live and not knowing anyone in Barcelona, there I was, fulminating at the cash I perpetually seem to owe Ryanair and en route to destiny. I miss my unenlightened self, sometimes.
I feel a bit of a fraud writing this when I’m not on Spanish soil (back soon, though), but I thought I’d attempt to summarise the year in a round-up of what I sometimes wish someone had told me before I embarked on the aforementioned emigration. Words to the wise, as it were.
No, seriously. Whatever you think you’re going to be able to control from now on in your life, wave adios. You’re so screwed.
You will get used to answering to various names, none of which were mentioned at your baptism.
You will NEVER work out the euro/sterling/sterling/euro exchange rate, what you’re getting paid or how much you’re getting charged. By the time you do, the entire Euro-zone project will be defunct.
Creepy men will stalk you across the city. You will resort to policemen with guns and Alsatians and feel grateful.
You will lie on the beach at 4am one August morning, listening to the waves, while Latino lunatics party around you. You will smile and sing to the stars.
One evening, in a bar, you will let your guard down, and Catalans will tell you that Scotland isn’t a country. You won’t handle this well.
You will commit to learning Catalan history solely in order to win arguments and will wind up knowing more about Catalonia throughout the ages than you were ever taught in the Scottish high school system about your own country.
You will question what a country actually is.
You will question where ‘home’ is.
You will go through hamsters with frightening alacrity. When you’re at your most hung over on a bank holiday afternoon, you will notice that the latest one seems to be haemorrhaging its intestines out of its backside. Forty minutes on the mobile phoning countless vets across the city will result in umpteen answer machine recordings in Catalan, which effectively say “go away”. You will injure your head banging it head against the wall in frustration at having to phone the same answer machine five times just to get a note of the emergency number to call, in Catalan. (You very cleverly haven’t bothered to learn Catalan.)
You will learn the cost of getting a hamster put down by an emergency vet on a bank holiday. Your male Spanish and Italian colleagues will forever find mileage in this tragedy. Your Argentinean friends will almost choke to death on their frutillas/fresas/strawberries.
One evening in a taxi you will glimpse the horizon at the end of l’Eixample, just as the sky is in a tie-dye mood, and the pinks on the brink will make you actually gasp.
Your red hair is like a red flag to a bull. Make friends with the mosquitoes.
You will associate Montjuïc with pine-clad air. You’ll come to regard it as the equivalent of Calton Hill, and similarly sacred.
You will confuse wild green parakeets on the streets as being some kind of exotic pigeon. You will later feel pretty stupid.
You will be initially shocked at the omnipresent smell of dope on the breeze, but will come to regard it as perfectly normal.
Dragons will become your familiar. They’ll spit sparks on you at La Mercè, they’ll swallow your head in Pedralbes and lay down their lives for you in Sants. You will make due note of all of this.
You will learn to shut up. On certain days you will find that you remind yourself of a German classmate at Glasgow Uni, who was renowned for starting every sentence with “Pero en Alemania…” (“But in Germany…”). You will recognise the syntax and sentiment and you will shudder. Cállate.
You will wince perpetually at the following conversation in a chemist’s (translated from the original Spanish). Me to assistant: “I don’t know what you call it, but do you have one of those things for filing your nails?” Assistant to me: “A nail file?”
You will learn that you really should look up. Not in the British sense of the bright side of life (come on, people, have you met me?) but physically. Gargoyles, Gaudí and gaudy graffiti are way above your head. Salute them.
You will feel chuffed every single time you master a new word. This sense of contentment will never wear off. Tenacillas means hair tongs.
So here’s to 2012, and an entire calendar year of being based in Barca. Happy new year – que el 2012 os traiga todo lo mejor.